Not Eating Is Cheating: Pills Are No Substitute For Food

07/07/2011 11:46 | Updated 22 May 2015

When did eating food become such a pain in the posterior? Are people really becoming too darned busy to make a half decent meal? Or to pick up a banana and peel it?

Well, something has created a market for Juice Plus+ – the supposed wonder pill that claims to give you your five-a-day without the 'hassle'. A seemingly magic potion of various fruit and vegetables, specially dried then powdered and made into tablets, the product has gone down an absolute storm in America. Now it has arrived in the UK and will be sold, as I understand, pyramid style through local distributors.

When you consider how important food is to our health, to our overall wellbeing – in fact, to our ability to even stay alive (not quite as important as breathing, but pretty high up there) – it's incredible how lax attitudes to it have become. And these pills just sum that up.

The guy behind the UK push of Juice Plus+, Justin Dodd, said; "[it] really is a wonder pill in every sense. It literally contains all five portions of your recommended minimum five-a-day and can be taken on the move without any fuss. This means everyone can get their intake of vital vitamins, regardless of how busy they are... Juice Plus+ has not been designed to replace real food because it IS real food."

Urgh. The fact that these tablets even exist is just wrong on so many levels. Healthy, nutritious food, and mealtimes themselves, are increasingly being seen as something to be endured rather than enjoyed. To blatantly reinforce the idea that the 'unpleasantness', not to mention the 'inconvenience', of eating anything grown in the ground is a problem to be solved is, in my opinion, simply irresponsible.

Undoubtedly people in the UK do need to improve their habits: according to the Department of Health, only a third of people here are eating the recommended minimum amount of fruit and veg; and a report by the Food Standards Agency last year showed 35% of people grabbed food on the go, because their lives were just so busy. But, with a burgeoning pressure on the NHS coming as a direct result of obesity and poor food choices, the answer lies in EATING well.

I just don't see how a product of this nature can possibly encourage that. Plenty of research (much of it funded by the manufacturers interestingly, although that's often the case with products of this type) has confirmed the efficacy of the product – and some, naturally, has not. But either way, Juice Plus+ customers will still need to eat actual food. Those four tablets per day will not remove the necessity to chew and swallow something to address the hunger pangs. And in the belief they have the fruit and veg thing covered (at a cost of between between £35.50 and £54.65 per person per month), what might people choose? My guess is: cheap, quick, calorie-laden crap.

The idea of a magic pill is not convincing to experts. Martin Hum, nutritional therapist and Chairman of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition said: "I glaze over when I see something claiming to offer all the benefits of fruit and veg in pill form.

"Real food – that means fresh, natural fruits, vegetables, grains and protein sources – is what we are designed to eat and what keeps us healthy. Capsules can never contain, in any great quantity, the fibre that is essential for the absorption of nutrients in the gut and which also helps control blood sugar, reduce cholesterol levels and prevent colon cancer.

"There is a danger with people believing they can replace fresh produce with a 'wonder' pill. Good food will always be the foundation of good health."

While I fight off the horrible images in my head of a Juice Plus+ future, where parents nestle a couple of tablets between the processed packed lunches in their kids' picnic boxes, I will give Justin Dodd credit for his disclaimer (which sort of undermines the entire marketing strategy really), that the product "should only be used as part of a healthy lifestyle – and fruit and vegetables should be very much on the menu."

Well said, yes they should be. And as long as this good earth is capable of producing its rainbow of fruits and vegetables, with all their zest and colour and juice and crunch, pointless tablet-shaped imposters will always get the cold shoulder from me.


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